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Pituitary. 2004;7(4):217-23.

Subclinical Cushing's syndrome.

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Medicina Interna I, Dipartimento di Scienze Cliniche e Biologiche, Università di Torino, ASO San Luigi, Orbassano, Italy.


Clinically inapparent adrenal masses, or adrenal incidentalomas, are discovered inadvertently in the course of workup or treatment of unrelated disorders. Cortical adenoma is the most frequent type of adrenal incidentaloma accounting for approximately 50% of cases in surgical series and even greater shares in medical series. Incidentally discovered adrenal adenomas may secrete cortisol in an autonomous manner, that is not fully restrained by pituitary feed-back, in 5 to 20% of cases depending on study protocols and diagnostic criteria. A number of different alterations in the endocrine tests aimed to assess the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis has been demonstrated in such patients. This heterogeneous condition has been termed as subclinical Cushing's syndrome, a definition that is more accurate than preclinical Cushing's syndrome since the evolution towards clinically overt hypercortisolism does occur rarely, if ever. The criteria for qualifying subclinical cortisol excess are controversial and we presently do not have sufficient evidence to define a gold standard for the diagnosis of subclinical Cushing's syndrome. An increased frequency of hypertension, central obesity, impaired glucose tolerance, diabetes and hyperlipoproteinemia has been described in patients with subclinical Cushing's syndrome; however, there is not evidence-based demonstration of its long-term complications and, consequently, the management of this condition is largely empirical. Either adrenalectomy or careful observation associated with treatment of metabolic syndrome has been suggested as treatment options because data are insufficient to indicate the superiority of a surgical or nonsurgical approach to manage patients with subclinical hyperfunctioning adrenal cortical adenomas.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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